Up to 7 metres of muscle and teeth, packed into an agile and streamlined body that can weigh in at 2250kg – this is the great white shark, one of the most infamous hunters on Earth
. But the reality is that these sharks may disappear from our oceans altogether within the next 20 years. Their terrifying reputation is part myth, part reality, rooted in their instinct to hunt and kill whatever looks like a good prey animal … and that can include human beings. But how far is their killer-reputation justified? Are great white sharks really the blood-thirsty loners we imagine them to be?
Dr. Mauricio Hoyos
is a scientist working on the behaviour and ecology of sharks. He wants to find out why they follow certain patterns of movements, including longdistance travels.
The usual methods of getting close to great whites to study them closely and form impressions of their population cross-section include caged dives and diving with airtanks. But these techniques are now known to affect the sharks’ behaviour: the predators’ extraordinary electrical sensory systems react to the galvanic properties of metal. In addition, the sharks are often lured closer with bloody bait, a technique that undoubtedly increases the animals’ aggression and prey drive, which makes them
uncomfortably dangerous diving partners. Furthermore, caged dives entirely rely on the animals coming to the researchers in order to take detailed notes on each individual, but the success of this depends on the sharks’ mood and willingness to approach the cage.
is able to approach the animals and is treated entirely differently by them compared to conventional divers. His very basic equipment means that there is less chance of it interfering with the sharks’ normal and natural behaviour, which allows him to get close to them without triggering aggression. He dives with the sharks without a cage, without any form of protection – just Frederic and two other freedivers versus the predators in the water. They watch each other’s backs, because the sharks are known to attack mostly from behind. But freediving is the very thing that makes Frederic’s diving encounter with the great whites a safer experience.
Frederic is likely to get much closer to the sharks than is normally possible, and in this way is able to assess the animals in more detail.
Frederic’s assignment also includes an assessment of the sharks’ behaviour. This is also extremely difficult under normal conditions, when diving equipment interferes with the sharks’ behaviour. As such very little is known about the great whites’
detailed behaviour, and Frederic’s dives with them is an unprecedented window into their lives. Since Christian
is there to document Frederic’s finding, the scientist is able to try to assess and interpret the behaviour witnessed by the freedivers.
Since Great Whites
have such a fearsome reputation, Frederic’s interactions with them in the water in itself provide the researchers with interesting insights into their interactions with humans. How and why does their behaviour differ towards a diver
with conventional equipment compared to a freediver like Frederic and his two friends: This is an experiment that has never been documented before.
To gain more insights into approaching fierce predators like the great white shark, Christian and Frederic have to be extremely well prepared. One thing is certain: with a predator like this, nothing can be left to chance. It is their success as a predator and their huge potential to inflict hideous damage that has made it so difficult to study them in detail and to assess their behaviour adequately from close quarters.
- published: 13 Nov 2015
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